Chicago Blackhawks: Keys to Winning Game 3 of the Western Conference Final
The Chicago Blackhawks flew out to Los Angeles on Monday, June 3, knowing that they haven't accomplished anything yet.
Sure, they lead the Los Angeles Kings, 2-0, in their Western Conference Final after taking care of business at home in Chicago. Sure, for the most part, the Blackhawks played very solid hockey, outskating the Kings while weathering the physical play of L.A. and getting to Kings netminder Jonathan Quick early in Game 2.
Yet, winning a game in Los Angeles will be the primary focus of the Blackhawks as they look to make this series easier on themselves, and that's a tall order. The defending NHL champion Kings have yet to lose at home in the Staples Center this postseason, going 7-0.
Still, with all due respect to the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks, the Blackhawks are a different animal and are playing right now like they did in the regular season, when they started the year with an NHL-record 21-0-3 start.
Here are five keys that the Blackhawks will need to execute to build a 3-0 series lead on Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
Score the First Goal
Nothing takes the hometown crowd out of it more than the visiting team scoring an early goal.
The Boston Bruins did this to perfection in their Game 2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final on Monday night, and the Blackhawks have the talent and capability to do it as well.
Andrew Shaw scored for Chicago just 1:56 into Game 2 to lift the Blackhawks, who scored four straight goals on Jonathan Quick to knock the Kings' netminder out of the game.
Having the same approach and gunning for the first goal to take the raucous Staple Center crowd out of the game will give the Blackhawks some serious momentum and a boost they'll need if they want to steal Game 3.
The Blackhawks have been tough to beat when they tally first this postseason, going 8-2 when lighting the lamp before their opponent. Conversely, the 'Hawks are just 2-2 when their opponent scores first.
However, one of those two wins came in Game 1 of this series, where Chicago rallied from a first-period deficit to win 2-1.
Approach Quick the Same Way
Jonathan Quick has been stellar this postseason and has easily been the best player on a nightly basis for the Kings.
That being said, the Blackhawks found a way to chase the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in Game 2, and it was easy to see how they did it. Shooting low, aiming for the pads and getting bodies in front of him have made Quick look vulnerable.
There's absolutely no reason to believe the Blackhawks won't try to do the same thing in Game 3. If Chicago can win the races to the front of the net and get bodies down low, it should be able to cash in on the rebound or put one past Quick with a screen or a deflection.
The Blackhawks need to have the same approach since Quick will be much better than he was in Game 2 when he was pulled after giving up four goals on 17 shots.
Capitalize on the Power Play
The Blackhawks have scored on the power play six times on 23 chances at home this postseason, which is 26 percent of the time.
On the road, however, it's been a different story. The 'Hawks are a miserable 1-of-16 with the man advantage away from the United Center, although their one goal did come in their last road game, a 4-3 win over Detroit in Game 6 six days ago.
In what should be a close game, the Blackhawks could really use a power-play goal to their advantage in Game 3 since it should be much tougher to beat Quick after an off-night in Game 2.
Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp have had the hot sticks lately on the Chicago power play, but Patrick Kane needs to start shooting more as well.
Lately, when the Blackhawks have not been successful on the power play, it is because their entries into the offensive zone are poor, and once in, they over-pass and constantly cycle the puck back to the point.
Shooting more often and moving it down low, likely to where Sharp resides near the net along the left side, could lead to a power-play goal, which could make a major difference in Game 3.
Get Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell Involved
Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell have two different styles of play, and while both have been successful to a degree, seeing more of them in Game 3 will certainly be beneficial for the Blackhawks.
Bickell, the 'Hawks' breakout player in the 2013 postseason added a power-play goal for his fifth tally of the playoffs in Game 2. His physicality and tenacity match up well with L.A., which plays with a physical intensity that is difficult to match.
The Kings will certainly bring some big hits once again in Game 3 and try to win more races toward the net.
Bickell needs to be a factor at both ends of the ice by creating traffic in front of Quick's net and by taking the body defensively to prevent the Kings from getting quality scoring chances.
Kane, on the other hand, has yet to really make his presence felt this postseason. Though he had an assist in Game 2 against L.A., Kane has only scored two goals in the playoffs and hasn't scored in the Blackhawks' last five games, all of which have been victories.
Kane is too talented to not score, but needs to start getting to the dirty areas. His shots are coming from too far away because he is not playing gritty enough to work his way down low near the net.
While Kane tied with fellow superstar Jonathan Toews for the team lead in goals in the regular season with 23, he hasn't found the scoring touch thus far. Adding a goal in Game 3 would help the Blackhawks as they attempt to steal a win on the road, while it would certainly boost Kane's confidence.
Keep Playing the Speed Game
The Blackhawks survived a scare against the Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals by getting back to the basics that made them so successful in their Presidents' Trophy-winning regular season.
This means playing the speed game and playing keep-away in the offensive zone. The 'Hawks play the puck-possession game better than every team in the league and their breakout play has been stellar as well so far in this series.
There's no doubt that Los Angeles will look to take the visitors out of it early on home ice with physical play and will be stingier in the defensive zone, but there's no reason for the Blackhawks to change their game plan and play into their opponents' hands.
The 'Hawks need to avoid trying to match L.A.'s physical style with unnecessary penalties and must stay composed throughout all three periods.
Expect Quick to be much better again, like Jimmy Howard was in Games 3 and 4 of the Detroit series. It's imperative the Blackhawks don't allow mounting frustration to show like they did when they fell behind, 3-1, in the series.
Instead, Chicago should utilize its quick breakout and speed game to allow for long stretch passes and odd-man rushes like it has during its five-game winning streak. Having this mentality will lead to better scoring chances, which might be a rarity for both sides in Game 3.